Leading High Performing Teams

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The single most important skill you must have to be an effective leader of high-performing teams is understanding that your role is always situational. You may already be aware of the theory of a four-phase development for teams: forming, storming, norming and performing. While that theory will go far toward helping you learn to lead a high-performing team, it isn’t the only information that you need to do well.

The Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Model, which states that leadership styles must change for people depending on their level of competence for the task at hand, is also very useful. People and teams of people exhibit the same kinds of behavior with respect to a task assigned. As mentioned above, these behaviors shift through four defined phases. What most leaders fail to understand is the type of leadership behavior needed for each phase. The most critical phases for leaders to establish a team culture are the “forming” and “storming” phases.

Phase 1 – Forming the Team

High-Performing teams, problem solving activities, performance management, operational excellence

Your role as a leader in HPT is always – SITUATIONAL

During the first phase, members of the team may be unwilling, insecure or unsure how to do the task. That means that the leader’s behavior must be very directive. Team leaders must be very prescriptive and almost dominating in directing the team as they get started. They must accelerate the members through the “forming” process and get them oriented as quickly as possible.

Tell them what the team will do, show them the steps to take, and then figuratively hold their hands as they start the tasks. Close supervision and providing a substantial amount of feedback on how they are doing is essential during this phase, just as if training a new employee on a job he or she has never done before.  Finally, make no assumptions until the team proves they are ready to move on as a cohesive group.

Phase 2 – Storming Development

In the second phase of the model, people on the team are beginning get committed, seem to be “getting it,” but may still be reluctant. Members may also be working through developing their relationships and trust with each other on the team.

The manager’s role shifts from being directive to helping people build relationships. He or she also needs to focus on getting members emotionally involved with the purpose of the team. Think of the leader as a salesperson asking a lot of questions, helping the team break down their disagreements and finding compromises with which the entire team can move forward.

Leaders should directly reinforce the kinds of “norming” behaviors they want and allow the individuals to begin taking on some responsibility for tasks as they demonstrate their ability to do so. A “team progress check” is appropriate at this juncture.

During the final two stages, norming and performing, team leaders will eventually be able to step back from the team, delegate more, and function as a resource for the team. When led successfully through the first two phases, your team will earn the title of “high-performing” and will have gained knowledge and expertise that will continue to work for the organization in the future.

Share your experience with these four phases that teams go through.  If you have some interesting story to share about how you handled a situation, I’m sure my readers would enjoy hearing.  Just comment below.

Here’s an FYI – I’ll be hosting a webinar on the 3 tactics REVEALED to Crack the CODE on High-Performing Teams.  You might find it interesting.  Here’s the registration link and more details about the content.


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Kim Crabtree, President of MetaOps WBENC Certified